The State Fair Community College Roadrunners left the court Saturday night in a tie for first place in Region 16.
The Roadrunners held off the Mineral Area Cardinals 96-90 at the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center to hand the Cardinals their first regional loss of the season.
State Fair is now tied with Mineral Area and Moberly Area for first in the region with a 3-1 record.
The Roadrunners (16-6) came out strong in the second half, using a 32-20 run to take an 80-67 lead near the 9-minute mark of the half.
Kenny Chery, who scored a game-high 28 points, had nine points, a steal and a blocked shot during that stretch.
“From the start, I just try to let the game come to me. I didn’t try to force anything, trying to get everybody involved,” Chery said about Saturday’s game. “When it was time to take over, I just put the team on my back and tried to be a leader and win the basketball game.”
Chery has had big games in each of the Roadrunners’ past two regional matchups. He scored 28 points Tuesday in their 96-67 road win over Missouri State-West Plains.
“He had a very poor showing at Moberly (Jan. 16), but he came back with a vengeance against West Plains,” Thomas said. “I thought he had a great game again tonight. I thought he was efficient and aggressive and really took the game to Mineral Area.”
Kevin Punter Jr. had eight of his 18 over the first 11 minutes of the second half, and Mookie Beard helped the Roadrunners at the end of the run with the final six points, his only points of the game.
“They were pressing and I thought our guys did a good job early in the second half of handling their pressure, making good plays (and) getting it to the open guy,” Thomas said.
The talented Cardinals fought till the end. D’Angelo Tucker made two 3-pointers, and Jay Raulston had one, as they closed the game on a 26-16 run.
Mineral Area came as close as four points on a 3-pointer by Jake White near the 20-second mark, but Chery made two free throws with 12.3 seconds left to secure the win.
State Fair had another big run in the first half after stumbling out of the gate.
The Cardinals sank 4 of their first 5 shots to take a 9-2 lead. State Fair had three turnovers in the opening three minutes.
“We didn’t come out in the very beginning with a lot of effort on defense, but it got better,” Thomas said. “I thought Kenny, Joe (Thomasson) and Kevin, our guards, made some plays, especially down the stretch.”
Shaquille Boga made a 3-pointer and scored on a fast break during the 9-0 run. He finished with a team-high 24 points.
Denzel Reed scored the other four points in the run. He finished with 15.
Thomas called a timeout, and the Roadrunners answered with an 18-2 run to turn a 9-2 deficit into a 20-11 lead.
“They’re a pretty good team. We’ve got to respect that,” Chery said. “They’re No. 1 in our conference right now and we had a chip on our shoulders trying to prove to everyone in the league that we can play with anybody.”
Ben Denbow made a pair of 3-pointers, and Joe Thomasson had 10 of his 14 points in the run.
The Cardinals cut their deficit to 28-27 on a post move by Raulston, who finished with 23 points. Leon Watkins had nine of his 14 points over the final 12 minutes of the half.
Chery scored 11 points to push State Fair’s lead to 48-42 at halftime. Jacob Williams closed the half with a dunk as time expired.
Note: Deshawn Stitt is no longer a member of the State Fair men’s basketball team.